Great teachers make a difference

To the editor:

Last week, I heard a Nobel laureate explain how he designed a new cancer drug. He said he never stopped asking questions about the science until he had the answer. His patients are surviving longer because of his superhuman curiosity.

I bet he had a teacher like Helen Furioli.

Today we are faced with a national education crisis. The returns we get on education are long-term and felt far downstream – a tough sell in an instant gratification society. We need to sell harder until we get it right.

Mrs. Furioli was my fifth- grade teacher. She was one of many great Brooke County teachers who helped shape my path. She didn’t care what you learned but that you learned. She encouraged us to have a curiosity for the world and gave us wings for life.

We need more curiosity and courage, those insatiable appetites that give rise to critical scientific breakthroughs. Teachers like Mrs. Furioli give us that – and they do it tirelessly.

Kay Bilal taught future scientists that they have every right, in fact, are obligated, to achieve. She put in tireless hours to get our chemistry class ready to compete academically in Pittsburgh. In 1985, we went to Carnegie Mellon as a team and bested some of the brightest minds there.

Kay Bilal made us believers in ourselves. That’s what great teachers do.

Years ago, a wacky computer science teacher named John Fluharty taught us to hack into our Atari computers and reach the operating system to unlock our video games. Now my team is hacking the DNA of the human genome to lock out cancer. Who knew our search for unlimited lives in “Space Invaders” would lead to the code of life itself?

In 1984, Gary Gorby was a candidate for the Teacher in Space competition. The odds of being selected were astronomically low, but he assured us with unshakable confidence that he would fly on the space shuttle. Man, that was brass courage.

That he wasn’t selected was irrelevant. He taught us that you dream and act big.

Before going into biotech, I spent 15 years working with great engineers at NASA, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The events of January 1986 helped cement that decision – fateful for Gary and me.

My big sister is going to be a teacher soon. There is no doubt she will become another Helen Furioli or Kay Bilal. She has a tireless ability to make sure her boys, and now all of her students, get it right. I’m amazed and proud like only a little brother can be. That’s big courage.

Right now we need that courage. We need more people like Helen Furioli to give our kids the curiosity to keep learning and the strength to believe in themselves.

My name found its way into a recent news story about some new research we are doing (“Techulon chosen for theraputic program,” May 12.) Helen Furioli took the time to write me a kind note. We remember. Thank you.

Brett Malone

Pearisburg, Va.